Cairo as an echo of Manila

(Originally published here)

Via crawdad, I heard that Krugman points out what I have been thinking about since last week, that the protests in Cairo seem to echo the 1986 People Power revolution in Manila.

This has some of the same feeling: a dictator who’s a long-time US client, a mass popular uprising that’s more about the perceived corruption of the government than about any particular ideology; El Baradei seems to be playing something like the Corazon Aquino role.

I say “echo” rather than “parallel” because there are similarities but key differences as well.

The basic similarity is that, yes, the USA supported a long-time dictator because of USA interests, in the name of regional stability. Supporting means turning a blind eye to very real human rights abuses, to very real corruption and looting, and most of all, a blind eye to the absence of clean elections. After a while, people start resenting this as their economic hardships grow.

Another parallel is that the protests were sanctioned by the clergy — the Archbishop of Manila, Jaime cardinal Sin, supported Cory Aquino. That is a very big deal when the clergy of the majority religion withdraws it support for a regime. I don’t know if Mubarak has any religious clergy on his side at this point. The thing about being a dictator is that at some point your public sins become so heinous that no spiritual authority can afford to support you anymore. You become radioactive.

The differences are myriad — the biggest one being that in 1986, the region was stable and Marcos needed the USA much more than the USA needed him. It didn’t really matter what happened to the Philippines (we are kind of used to that). This is very much not the case in Cairo — Egypt is key in both ME peace and in the flow of oil. The stakes are painfully high in Egypt.

In Manila there was a clear opposition leader who was very much not a threat to USA interests. In Cairo, there is not yet a clear opposition leader, and this creates a lot of anxiety on the part of the interested outsiders.

In Manila, the opposition basically won when General Ramos switched sides to the opposition, and the rest of the army followed. In Cairo, Mubarak still has the military on his side.

In Manila, there was no implied threat of radical political change. The clergy was mainstream and non-violent. The Communist insurgency was active rurally but marginalized politically. In Egypt there is the Muslim Brotherhood which seems to be in favor of Islamic theocracy (please prove me wrong).

And what I am sure everyone else will overlook but to me is deeply significant and most troubling, in Manila, the opposition was led by a woman, and thousands of women participated, including nuns, but in Cairo you will not see a single woman protesting in the streets. ***

I am not sure what will happen in Egypt, but I am pretty sure I know what lessons the USA will NOT learn from it. The USA will not stop supporting authoritarian regimes for short-term political and economic goals, the USA will not embark on a long-term foreign policy that requires the democratic process to be a requirement for aid. Please, America, prove me wrong.

Lex pointed out that I am wrong and women are in the protests. I am very glad, and I will be very much gladder if they have more freedom under whatever new government is formed. I have read prior to the protests that more Egyptian women have been feeling pressured (or brainwashed) to wear the niqab, and I would hope that that trend reverses.


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